Monday, 20 July 2015

Colin Ward and Five Leaves

I started reading Colin Ward in, I think, 1973, at Aberdeen People's Press. APP was a magazine with its own print-shop, one of many such papers throughout the country such as Leeds Other Paper and Rochdale Alternative Paper. One table at APP was devoted to “swaps”, magazines exchanged with APP, and some national magazines for sale or reference. It was there I came across Peace News, which I hooked up with for many years, and Freedom. The latter listed many local anarchist groups across the country and, tantalisingly, its appeal fund often listed significant donations collected at anarchist picnics in America, sometimes from groups with foreign language names. For a young man living in the north east of Scotland in those pre-internet days this was heady stuff.
Freedom was respected (and criticised) for being the journal of record of the anarchist movement, the paper of “official anarchism”. There were brasher papers, with more exciting layout, but often with only brief lives. With Freedom you got tradition and continuity and you had access to the work of Vernon Richards, the scarily pedantic historian Nicolas Walter and, the subject of this magazine, Colin Ward. I found some copies of Colin Ward's Anarchy which, though it closed in 1970, was still thought relevant, certainly more so than the second series produced by the group that succeeded him as editor. I've spent years trying to complete the set of 116 issues he edited.
Over the years I got to know Colin's work, starting with a wonderful series of books on work, on vandalism and on utopia for Penguin Education and of course his Anarchy in Action. This is still the book I recommend to people wanting to understand what anarchism is all about. Anarchy in Action remains in print from Freedom Press, even if the Freedom empire no longer really reflects Colin's view of anarchism.
I got to know Colin – he spoke at one or two meetings in my later and current hometown in Nottingham - and found him as good company in person as his books were to read. The long defunct Old Hammond Press published pamphlets by him on housing and on William Morris and, in 1995, I became a “proper” publisher when Mushroom Bookshop published his Allotment: its landscape and culture (jointly written with David Crouch), buying paperback rights from Faber. Typically, Colin said he did not want any royalties, simply being glad the book was again available. The Allotment kept Five Leaves Publications afloat for many years after we took over Mushroom's publishing side. We reissued several of his other books including Arcadia for All, a new title Cotters and Squatters and a selection of his essays, Talking Green. Colin preferred to emphasise the positive, with no time for “tittle tattle” about the anarchist movement. The nearest he came to that was the extended interview with David Goodway, Talking Anarchy, which we published and is now with PM Press.
Unfortunately the last few years of Colin's life were not kind to him. He was unable to complete his last commission, to edit a set of essays by other writers whose ideas chimed with his. I last saw Colin at the relaunch of Anarchy in Action at Housmans Bookshop in London. I'd been asked to speak and was proud to do so. My guess is that everyone at the launch already had the book, but everyone wanted to see Colin again and to honour one of British anarchism's most influential figures. It was, I think, his last public appearance.
Our last Colin Ward publication was Colin Ward Remembered, a collection of the speeches given at his memorial meeting – funded by those who generously chipped in to hire Conway Hall for the event. People sent so much money we were able to publish the memorial volume from the surplus.

The meeting was attended by hundreds of people Colin had influenced. In my own case the Five Leaves publishing firm and the more recent Five Leaves Bookshop would not have happened without his early encouragement and his infectious belief in doing positive things, not just damning what is wrong with the world.
This article first appeared in Anarchist Voices Volume 9 number 1

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Five Leaves Bookshop, the story so far

If there was any doubt that Five Leaves is a radical bookshop it was dispelled the day after the General Election when a stream of Labour voters, Greens and assorted lefties drifted into the shop seeking comfort after the storm. We found ourselves providing an open therapy group for the forlorn (as we were ourselves). We printed up some badges – Don't Blame Me, I Voted Labour/Green/I'm an Anarchist, as well as a set carrying the Joe Hill slogan, Don't Mourn, Organise...
But how can a political bookshop survive on the high street? We were, in November 2013, the first independent of any description to open in a city centre this century, and there are not many radical bookshops around. Like any good independent, we prioritise customer service – we offer next day supply for most UK books and one or two weeks for most books from the USA. Overall, our stock might be different to most other independents but for week after week our recent bestseller list included H is for Hawk and we've sold masses of Penguin Little Black Classics. We make sure that there is enough choice for anyone coming into the shop, regardless of their views. We have one very regular customer, for example, who only buys books on Buddhism. Others head straight for our cityscape and landscape sections and quite a few other regulars never get further than poetry. Poetry is important to us, not least as it is a strong interest of one member of staff, and we regularly put on readings.
But in any case, radical books do shift – we sold over a hundred copies of Owen Jones The Establishment in hardback and the paperback hit the national best-seller charts. Many of our customers, however, come for the specialist areas of the shop – Beat writers, Travellers/Roma, Anarchism, Jewish interest (our best selling magazine is Jewish Socialist!), Transgender, Black History... We might not stock celebrity biographies but for some of our customers it is more important that 20% of our fiction is in translation, with its own dedicated section.
Five Leaves Bookshop works with dozens of local community groups including trade unions, the Quakers, Nottingham Irish Studies Group, Nottingham Women's History and various departments at our two local universities. We run an events programme with at least one meeting in the shop every week. Our own mini-Festival, Bread and Roses, attracted 850 people in its first outing, with packed events for Owen Jones, Natalie Bennett (leader of the Green Party) and cult-writer Iain Sinclair. Bread and Roses is probably the only book festival funded by trade unions. As we are not yet two, we are still taking baby steps in bookselling but the business model is working well enough to pay staff the living wage.
The bookshop grew out of the longstanding Five Leaves Publications, which has been publishing literary, social history and political books since 1995. One of our staff also works at Nottingham Writers' Studio, heading the current bid for Nottingham to become a UNESCO City of Literature. The two sides of the business are getting closer – this summer we publish a 5,000 print run book of commissioned stories by local writers including John Harvey, Alison Moore and Paula Rawsthorne as part of a literature development project in the city. It's being launched at Nottingham Waterstones, reflecting the way that everyone in the industry locally pulls together [update - had to move because of a double booking!]
If there was ever a time when independent bookshops simply waited for customers to show up we feel that is long gone. We work hard to involve and be involved with as many groups in the city as we can. And not just in the city – from its previous publishing base and now from the bookshop we work with the Leicester Centre for Creative Writing to run the annual States of Independence celebration of independent publishing. Five Leaves also set up the Bread and Roses Award for Radical Publishing and, with Housmans Bookshop in London, initiated the London Radical Bookfair.
City centre rents make it difficult for any small businesses to survive. Fortunately our city has many alleyways and cut-throughs which provide spaces for “destination” shops. Five Leaves could not be more central to Nottingham. We are one minute from the city's main square and City Council offices and happily occupy an alleyway next to a bookies!
Now that we have been going for eighteen months we can compare like to like sales. Nottingham is a multi-cultural city and many of our customers are new to the city, joining those who have long been involved in the local literature or political scenes. We've doubled the stock since opening. Our staff has increased including appointing a part-time events workers. We are doing fine.
Nottingham increasingly seeing itself as a “rebel city”. In literature terms we draw on the tradition of DH Lawrence, Lord Byron and Alan Sillitoe. The first radical bookshop in the city was opened in 1826 by one Susannah Wright and there were several others in our local history. Nottingham's radical bookshop tradition lives on!

A slightly different version of this article will appear in Booktime magazine

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Remembering David Lane

David set up the Nottingham radical bookshop Concord Books. After the shop closed Concord became a national wholesaler for vegetarian/vegan and green books which David supplied to bookshops and wholefood shops. After he retired he moved to Bakewell where he remained active in the peace movement. David was a vegan when it was hard enough to be a vegetarian. A pacifist, he refused conscription but accepted alternative service as a hospital orderly, a period he always looked back on fondly. The years before his death were not kind to him but he continued to distribute Peace News with the help of others and was always keen to know what was going on in the booktrade, at Five Leaves and Housmans.

Remembering David Lane

Sunday 7th June 2015

Starts 14:00

Details from
On Sunday June 7th at the Sumac Centre there will be an informal memorial meeting for our late supporter, life-long peace activist, conscientious objector and vegan, David Lane [1934 – 2014].

David's friend & follow campaigner, Bruce Kent, honorary vice-president of CND, will join us, as will a number of people who worked alongside David in the book trade and on many campaign trails over the years.

Vegan catering will be provided Veggies Catering Campaign, whose very existence, let alone 30 years of campaigning, came about through David's constant support.

Further information from Moyra, Chesterfield CND [email] or phone 07732 128480
or 07870 861837
or Ross, Five Leaves Bookshop:

Please pass this on to others that will wish to remember David

Monday, 30 March 2015

Five Leaves, the movie